A healthy heart is essential for a long, vibrant and healthy life. It works hard to keep us functioning well, so we need to give it some love and care back. That means eating well, exercising and reducing the lifestyle factors that can increase our risk of heart disease, stroke and heart attack.
Every year almost 18,000 Australians die each year of heart disease, and many more may be at risk. In fact, it is estimated more than 75% of the population are at risk of having cardiovascular disease in the future, and many may not even realise.
The good news is, heart disease is largely preventable. To start making heart healthy changes, take a moment to understand your risk and how your lifestyle might impact on the most important organ in your body.
What's your heart risk?
Knowing your risk is the first step you can take to prevent heart attack or stroke. There are a number of risk factors that can play a role. These factors are used by doctors to assess your ‘absolute cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk’ – your overall likelihood of experiencing a heart attack or stroke in the next five years.
Risk factors for heart disease include:
- Ethnic background
- Having family history of heart disease
- Smoking (both active smoking and being exposed to second-hand smoke)
- High blood cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Being physically inactive
- Being overweight
- Depression, social isolation and lack of quality support
To find out your absolute CVD risk, visit your doctor for a heart health check. Your doctor can then help you develop a plan to work towards reducing your risk as much as possible.
How to look after your heart
Some risk factors are out of your control – age and family history, for example. But there are some lifestyle changes you can make to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of disease.
1. Be smoke-free
If you needed one more reason to quit smoking, here's another. Tobacco is a leading cause of heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease. Smoking is the largest single preventable cause of death in Australia, killing over 15,000 Australians each year.
Quitting smoking isn't easy, but it is a key lifestyle change you can make to protect your heart – as well as improving your overall health in a number of vital ways.
2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
The health of your body impacts the health of your heart. To keep your heart in good condition, aim for a healthy eating plan that includes a balanced variety of nutritious foods, focusing on colourful vegetables and fruits, wholegrains and legumes, unflavoured dairy products, lean meats, healthy fats and use herbs over salt or flavour. Remember to drink plenty of water too.
3. Be active
Getting in some moderate physical activity each day is a good way to protect your heart. Being active can help control risk factors such as high blood pressure, as well as helping you to reach and maintain a healthy weight. For the best heart benefits, the Australian suggests aiming for 30 minutes of moderate activity such as brisk walking on most if not all days of the week.
If you're looking for a high-energy workout to really get your heart racing, or a gentle, flowing exercise class to soothe your mind and body after a busy day, Medibank's Live Better at Home series has something for everyone. And the best part is you can give it a go in the comfort of your own home, at a time that suits you!
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4. Maintain a healthy weight and waist circumference
A healthy weight and waist measurement reduces your risk of developing many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Waist circumference can be a helpful way to assess how much body fat you are carrying.
5. Seek treatment for any mental health issues
Studies have shown a link between mental health issues such as depression and the risk of heart disease. If you feel you are experiencing depression, anxiety, stress or other mental health issues, talking to a health professional is an important first step to getting treatment. If you'd like to address a mental health issue or simply look after your social and emotional wellbeing, find out more at Healthy Mind by Medibank.
6. Have regular check-ups
One of the most important things you can do is see your doctor for a heart health check. This involves getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked and having a chat about your lifestyle risk factors – all of which can be done as part of a routine check up.
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Members with Hospital cover^ can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week.Members with Hospital cover^ can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
^OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.